Speed, Quality, Cheap. Pick any Two.

The Hon. Peter Garrett, member of Midnight Oil and member for Kingsford-Smith is presently under-the-gun over the management of the Energy Efficient Homes Package.

It seems out of the old adage: speed, quality, cheap: pick any two that the department chose just speed.

From ABC1’s Q & A last night, members of both sides of the house marked Peter Garrett as an honourable and a decent man. His experience leading environmental lobby groups, and leading a successful band shows he can manage people. But Management in a Ministerial sense is way more complex.

Evidently, his department commissioned a legal risk assessment of the program in February 2009. This document was not seen by Mr. Garrett until early this year.

My speculation is:

  • Mr. Rudd & Mr. Swan design a large program to inject money into the economy in light of the Global Financial Crisis. Getting this cash into the economy quickly is paramount.
  • Based on a program created by the previous Government, it was seen as an easy mechanism to gain green credentials and inject fiscal stimulus.
  • Someone in the Department engages an external party to detail any risks. In large projects, there are always risks. Mitigating risk is a part of sound project management. Not all problems can be solved nor foreseen: but those that are foreseen must be managed.
  • Remember: timing is everything. Speed, speed, speed. The Department cannot wait months to create a viable infrastructure to manage all the risks, and as political pressure is on to spread the money out: nothing gets in the way of speed.
  • Conversations between Ministers is all positive and about the velocity of the program;
  • the Department keeps their risk assessment information to lower levels, in an effort to protect their Minister, the program and potentially their job.
  • The Minister doesn’t want to hear or see bad news: even worse, pass this up the chain to the notorious micro manager Rudd.

The causes for this breakdown potentially are:

  • An environment where negatives and risks are seen as bad PR. Bad messaging for the nightly news
  • An environment where speed is critical. Now, now now rather than considered policy execution
  • An environment where people fear raising bad news

Just “firing” the Minister is not going to solve the problem. Although Mr Rudd will probably reach a point where he jettisons Mr Garrett. That will be sad.

2 thoughts on “Speed, Quality, Cheap. Pick any Two.”

  1. I agree with most of what you have written – except the last line. The fact of the matter is that the programme was conducted in such a way that people were KILLED. The buck stops with Garrett and then Kevin07. I’ve not read it in detail, but the quotes from the report from Minters I saw in the press seem to make it pretty clear the risks were identified. I am no electrician or risk manager but I have always owned “Queenslander” houses – and you would have to have rocks in your head to put foil in the roof of one. The house we just bought has some single insulated power cable in it in metal conduit! It is NOT uncommon in places that are ~100+ years old to have dodgy wiring. Who would have though?

    I saw Lindsay Tanner on TV a week ago lecturing the presenter along the lines of: “You have to understand – it was an economic crisis!!!!!111 OMFGWTFBBQHAX ARE YOU STUPID?”. I suspect his position on the matter may have been somewhat different if it was one of his kids who was killed. If it were one of my boys, I would be ropeable.

    I’d add another bullet point under your causes:
    * A government where populism and token actions are deemed infinitely more important than competent action.

    The Australian economy would be in much the same state it is now if they had just held off for another month or deemed it too risky and punted the money elsewhere (like into the needy IT sector 🙂

  2. @David – so in regards to people being killed, you’re saying that Garrett is responsible for them? Even though the programme was designed around Australian Insulation Standards (thus “up to scratch” and legal) and this programme was originally designed by the Howard gov?

    These Standards are the same ones that have been around for quite some number of years and quite a number of houses, apartment blocks blah blah blah have been built to.

    These standards also say the person actually doing the job has the responsibility on themselves to follow the Standards – if they put foil insulation without performing due diligence, they are the ones that have to take extra special care.

    The programme did not say “you must use foil insulation” it was just one of the options available to businesses. The Government did not force anyone to use foil insulation.

    A number of housing insulators have been killed in the past before this programme existed and people will continue to be killed in the future. Solely because of bad workmanship, skills and ability of the insulators themselves.

    You could reply and say thats only because some businesses became accredited “quick smart” and they were shonky businesses with bad training. This is very true… except this is true of ANY business and it will always be true. No amount of finger point will ever remove shonky businesses with bad training practices.

    Again, Garrett’s not the one at fault. Sure his department could have done better with various notifications but again, they and these reports would still not have stopped any of these deaths.

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